Coffee with Jessica

Jess Farrugia discusses her peculiar admiration for the crime-fighting doyenne of daytime ITV schedules, Jessica Fletcher. Illustration by Katie Quinn.

‘If you could choose anyone to share a meal with, dead or alive, real or fictional, who would it be?’

This question comes up more than I’d expect, during job interviews, on dates, at networking events. But perhaps even more unexpected - to those asking it, at least - is the force of my answer, which flies out of my mouth as if I’d spent my entire life preparing for it; and in a way, I have. 

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamt about meeting Jessica Fletcher, the protagonist in the hit US TV drama, Murder, She Wrote. I wanted her to be my babysitter, my teacher, and now, twenty years after the final episode aired, my meal companion. Not only do I know that she’s the one - the one whose name I will always recite upon such questioning - but I’m also able to reel off a series of details relating to this hypothetical occasion. 

For example, I can tell you where this date would take place; not in Maine, where Jessica Fletcher is based, but in one of the many exotic locations she travels to for book tours and negotiations with film producers. Perhaps Monte Carlo? That would be my first choice, given its almost classic status in countless mystery narratives.

We’d meet at a restaurant overlooking the harbour, a cool breeze rolling off the ocean in the mid-morning sun. Like me, Jessica Fletcher would have a soft spot for brunch, or as I like to call it, second breakfast. I say this because I imagine she’s the kind of woman who would rise early, settling into a ritual of coffee and writing before the rest of the world had awoken. A ritual, might I add, that I have yet to adopt. 

A hostess would point me towards the table, informing me that my companion had already arrived. And then I’d see her, talking to the waiter as if she’d known him for years, her hands straightening the collar on her polkadot shirt. Laughing, she’d turn to wave me over, the warmth of recognition in her face sending my heart aflutter. 

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Is it possible to be simultaneously giddy and immensely relaxed? Because that’s how I imagine I would feel in the presence of Jessica Fletcher. My excitement would mingle with the sense of enormous calm that she has instilled in me since I was a child. In my mind, she is the personification of that voice in a crisis that quietly but assertively says, ‘everything is going to be alright.’ Because Jessica Fletcher is never in a flap, she’s always in control. A dead body in the hotel elevator? No problem. A serial killer on the loose? Leave it with me, Officer.  

Emboldened by this newfound serenity and a sip of my mimosa, I’d ask her: to what do you owe your success? And with a sympathetic smile, she’d tell me that she simply works hard and doesn’t take life too seriously. I’m not convinced, though. Not only is J. B. Fletcher a household name in the fictional world of Murder, She Wrote, but without knowing it, as a female protagonist over the age of thirty, she also defies the pop-culture odds. It seems to me that there’s more to my heroine than a solid work ethic and a sense of perspective; rather, there’s a touch of gumption about her, a confidence that I can’t quite figure out. 

A mystery writer by profession, she makes no apologies for interfering in affairs that might be thought of as outside her expertise, nor for commanding crime scenes and overriding detectives. And why should she? Watching her on screen, we learn that Jessica Fletcher is perhaps more capable of solving crimes than most of Maine’s police force; so much so that, as if in one last bid for justice, victims seem to make it their mission to drop dead in her vicinity. 

But why is she so good at unravelling mysteries? This is my next inquiry, and ever the generous type, Jessica Fletcher would light up at the opportunity to impart some knowledge to a new generation. ‘First, I ask a lot of questions. Second, I turn up even when get the distinct feeling I’m not wanted. And third, I always follow my gut.’ This, she’d tell me, is also the trick to becoming a great writer – the two go hand in hand. 

‘But,’ she’d whisper, leaning toward me as if she were about to share a secret, ‘to be a good writer and a good sleuth, you’ve got to be… a bloody difficult woman.’ With a wink, she’d return to her pastry. I’d pause for a moment and consider the series of women and girls who shaped my youth – Nancy Drew, Velma Dinkley, Harriet the Spy – and I’d quietly thank them for making me just as inquisitive, just as observant, just as bloody difficult. And at this point, my hypothetical occasion would end, the scene playing out to the cheerful theme music that I’ve come to associate with my childhood.